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Migrants Settled In Europe Feel Overshadowed By Current Refugees

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

While what's been happening in Hungary and Croatia and elsewhere in the region is getting a lot of attention, the reality is that tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been in Europe for years. Many are poor and less educated than the more recent arrivals. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: On Thursday, Paris police uprooted nearly 900 people who've been camping in tents in two city neighborhoods. The migrants, mostly from Sudan, went peacefully as they were transferred to proper housing facilities. Mathias Vicherat, chief of staff for the mayor of Paris, denies the city was reacting to the media spotlight on what is emerging to be two classes of migrants.

MATHIAS VICHERAT: (Through interpreter) We had to wait for a judge's decision to evacuate this camp. And no, they're not getting different treatment. But migrants fleeing war is more urgent than economic hardship.

BEARDSLEY: Twenty-eight-year-old Saleh, who fears giving his last name, has been living for months in one of the tents. He says he can't go home.

SALEH: If I go to Sudan, kill me there. I come here for the life.

BEARDSLEY: But life for many who come to France fleeing war and dictatorship means languishing on the street, their asylum request taking months or even years to process. That's quite a contrast to the hundreds of newly arrived Syrians and Iraqis who've already been housed, issued temporary papers and are getting medical checks and French lessons. Europe is struggling to cope with the continuous surge of refugees, along with unemployment and economic decline. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it a balancing act.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANUEL VALLS: (Through interpreter) Some say we have to close everything. To say that is to close our eyes to refugees dying on our doorsteps. Others say we must open all the doors. To say that is to close our eyes to the realities and difficulties of French society.

BEARDSLEY: In northeast Paris, more than 500 migrant men, women and children, mostly from Africa and Afghanistan, live in an abandoned school. Hot meals are being served by volunteers from a temporary kitchen set up in a classroom. Afghan Said Mohmedi says the squalid school is better than the street where he lived for three years. Mohmedi says he never got French lessons. He just picked it up on his own. He says many of the migrants feel forgotten.

SAID MOHMEDI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We flee war in Afghanistan and arrive here and then become crazy having to live on the street," he says. While reporting this story, I brought my 9-year-old son along. We're giving out some of his old toys to the children. Mohmedi can't stop hugging him. He says his own son is about the same age and size.

MOHMEDI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I haven't seen him in nearly six years," he says. "It's so hard. But that's life, right?" Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.